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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Magnolia

Starring: Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore
Director: Paul Anderson
Rated: R
RunTime: 178 Minutes
Release Date: December 1999
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Ezra Buzzington, William R. Mapother, Jim Beaver, Michael Bowen, Melinda Dillon, Jeremy Blackman, Henry Gibson, William H. Macy

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Review by LarryG
2½ stars out of 4

Magnolia is a long, awkward and ambitious movie. Writer/Director Paul Thomas Anderson creates some poignant moments but takes too long to get there. The movie is filled with big themes: forgiveness, overcoming past traumas and whether love can conquer all. Much of Magnolia feels like the downbeat second half of Anderson's last film, Boogie Nights, with its relentless bad news for almost everyone involved. But Magnolia rarely has the fun and energy Boogie Nights had in its first hour.

Everyone in Magnolia is in pain. All that pain is just too much after a while. Anderson is very intent on showing that no one is what they seem. Everyone who seems to be doing well actually hides a past tragedy. The fine character actor Philip Baker Hall plays a big TV star, the host of the longest running game show of all time, who is falling apart, first slowly then rapidly. Like the multimillionaire played by Jason Robards, he's terminally ill and might also have a secret shame. Everyone who seems screwed up actually has a really good reason for being that way. The truly irritating drug addict played by Melora Walters turns out to not only have an awful memory that explains why she's messed up but actually has a heart of gold and can charm John C. Reilly's ridiculously clueless cop.

Anderson did well in filling Magnolia with excellent actors. After his uncomfortable performance in Eyes Wide Shut, it's good to see Tom Cruise at his best, in a cocky mode. In his scenes as a motivational speaker giving a room full of pathetic guys the confidence to hit on women, Tom Cruise is electrifying. He's less affecting in the later scenes where he has to show vulnerability. Julianne Moore has a few stunningly real moments but she's generally handcuffed by her pathetic character. She has one affecting scene where she's mortified when a pharmacist, thinking she's a junkie, is unsure whether to fill her prescription but it's hard to have much sympathy for someone who's biggest problem is guilt about marrying someone for his money. Philip Seymour Hoffman, so good as the obnoxious foppish wealth playboy in Talented Mr. Ripley, isn't given much to work with, playing a likable caretaker, like he did in Flawless.

Anderson tries to replicate the form Robert Altman used in Nashville of multiple plot lines that come together. But not all of Anderson's stories are interesting. The story of a brilliant young repeat quiz show winner, apparently driven to keep winning to the point of not having any other life, is sad but it doesn't have the tragic proportions Anderson seems to suggest. The kid apparently has been a willing participant. Only William H. Macy's portrayal makes you care about the uninteresting character of a loser former kid quiz champ. Macy's humanity, and rapport with Reilly's cop, even gives some appeal to Magnolia's bizarre frog related climax.

Anderson says Magnolia was inspired by Aimee Mann's songs. Mann's soundtrack is one of the best parts of the movie. While the songs and the film share a sad, pained sensibility, Mann's songs about characters haunted by their past are over in three minutes and they have good melodies to soften their message. Anderson's movie stretches over more than three hours and its tension and pain are almost unrelenting.

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